A RECENT reference question afforded us the opportunity to re-examine a number of volumes in Dartmouth's extensive Huxley collection. This body of monographs, first printings, and manuscript material was, in the main, a gift of Richard Mandel 1926. The object of the reference query was Huxley's novel Crome Yellow. The subject of the query was the identity of the fictional character Jenny in the book. Dartmouth's copy of this novel, a gift of the Class of 1919 in memory of Louis A. Stone and Edward Warnke, is unique in that it was once owned by Oliver Sylvain Baliol Brett, third viscount Esher, and bears his armorial bookplate on the front pastedown. In a penciled note on the first flyleaf, Lord Esher explains, 'Jenny in this book is my sister Dorothy.' Dorothy Eugenie Brett was then living in Taos, New Mexico, and working as an artist. The student seeking the identity of Huxley's fictional character was satisfied and we were led to ponder the use of white space in books.
It was Coleridge who first used the term marginalia, in 1832, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED, available in both a printed format and online via the Dartmouth College Information System, also provides information on variants of marginalia such as annotations, postillae, glosses, and scholiae. All refer in one way or another to the notes entered on the white spaces of a page by a reader commenting on the text.
In a splendid essay published last year, Robert McCrum examines the library of Graham Greene as it was being cataloged for sale. McCrum notes that many writers have left much larger collections, but that Greene's was important for another reason. He states that 'what is different about Greene's library is the wealth of personal annotation' in nearly every book. Further, 'Greene's annotated library . . . gives the literary detective vital clues to aspects of his life.' McCrum shows the importance of a close examination of an author's library, not only for the titles it holds, but also for the notes, the marginalia, that can be found.
Within Dartmouth's collections are two literary libraries that are more or less complete. The first is that of the British poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), who died on the Greek island of Skyros while on active service in the Royal Navy. This collection, although small, is of great interest and importance as it represents the library of a brilliant young poet at the beginning of this century. As a resource for the study and understanding of Brooke and his era, this library is vital and merits further examination by a student or scholar. The second library is that of the American novelist Kenneth Roberts (1885-1957). This collection is radically different in both size and scope from that of the young Brooke. Roberts, as many will recall, was a most exacting historical novelist whose novels of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution are correct in all historical detail. His collection of books reflects his interests and research needs. Many of the books are very rare and nearly all are heavily annotated. It is possible to read one of Roberts's novels and then go to the sources to see where and how he found the facts incorporated into the fiction.
The study of marginalia is certainly not a new phenomenon, but there has been renewed interest in recent years with the renewed interest in the history of the book and the history of texts. Marginalia provides a great deal of information on the use of a particular book or group of books. This has led to a number of recent publications that we have found to be of more than passing interest:
Stoddard, Roger E. Marks in Books, Illustrated and Explained
Houghton Library, Harvard University, 1985).
The illustrated catalog of a fascinating exhibition held at the Houghton Library, this volume is both intellectually stimulating and visually exciting.
Annotation and Its Texts , edited by Stephen A. Barney (New York:
University Press, 1991).
This is a delightful collection of essays on a variety of writers, texts, and problems in annotation, well-reviewed in both scholarly and popular literature.
Camille, Michael. Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992).
Camille examines and re-examines the edges (literally and figuratively) of medieval art to see what new information and interpretation can be gained from this review.
'Commentary as Cultural Artifact,' South Atlantic Quarterly, 91:4
A special issue of the journal, edited by Lee Patterson and Stephen G. Nichols 1958, devoted to a series of provocative essays on glosses, marginalia, and commentary.
Tribble, Evelyn B. Margins and Marginality: The Printed Page in
Modern England (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,
This volume is important for its concern for both print and manuscript in a period of transition.
There are, to be sure, transcriptions and studies of the marginalia of specific authors. Several that we have found fascinating include:
Piozzi, Hester Lynch. Piozzi Marginalia, Comprising Some Extracts from
Manuscripts of Hester Lynch Piozzi and Annotations from Her Books,
edited by Percival Merritt (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
As with many polymaths, the annotations in Piozzi's books are as revealing as her manuscripts.
Stern, Virginia F. Gabriel Harvey: His Life, Marginalia, and Library
Clarendon Press, 1979).
A fascinating examination of both the library and the marginalia of the seventeenth-century Cambridge poet and legal scholar.
Carlyle, Books and Margins: Being a Catalogue of the Carlyle Holdings in the
Norman and Charlotte Strause Carlyle Collection and the University
Library with a Transcription of Carlyle's 'Marginalia' in John Stuart
Mill's Principles of Political Economy and an Interpretative Essay
Thereon, University of California, Santa Cruz, University Library
Bibliographical Series, No. 3 (Santa Cruz: University Library,
University of California, 1980).
The title is tedious, the marginalia is not. This is one of the better attempts to reproduce the margial comments of one major author upon another.
Erasmus, Desiderius. Erasmus' Annotations on the New Testament: the
Gospels: Facsimile of the Final Latin Text (1535) With All Earlier Variants
(1516, 1519, 1522, 1527), edited by Anne Reeve; introduction by M. A.
Screech; calligraphy by Patricia Payn (London: Duckworth, 1986).
The annotations and marginal comments of this Reformation scholar on the text of the New Testament are of great importance in the history of Biblical scholarship. This volume is also a good example of the difficulties involved in reproducing marginalia on the printed page.
We would be remiss in our duties if we did not remind readers that annotating texts and creating marginalia are only to be done in books that one owns oneself. No matter the intent, annotating library books or the books of others is considered a destructive rather than a constructive act.
P. N. C.
 'A Life in the Margins,' The New Yorker, (11 April 1994), 46-55.
 McCrum, 'Life,' 46.
 See Philip N. Cronenwett, 'Rupert Brooke and the Brooke Collection,' Dartmouth College Library Bulletin , n.s., 22:1 (November, 1981), 25-27, for notes on the acquistion of Brooke's library.
Last Updated: 5/3/12